Barcelona's CCCB reconstructs 1950s to 1970s Italy via the life of film-maker Pier Paolo Pasolini
Mon May 20 2013
There are days when a journalist's work becomes a personal matter. As I write this, thinking about the CCCB exhibition devoted to Pier Paolo Pasolini this month, I have on the table a knackered copy of 'Ragazzi di vita' ['Hustlers'], all marked up the pink cover ripped and the spine held together with sellotape. I bought it at a bookshop in my tender years as a student. I have also 'Pasolini', the graphic novel by Davide Toffole, a punk singer from northern Italy who, according to his illustrations, interviewed the film-maker's ghost in 2002. It would appear that they met in an Internet forum. I squinch up my face in envy.
Today I checked my email a few times, and there was nothing. I know I won't have Toffole's luck, because I'm not a punk spiritualist 2.0. I'll just have to make do with what I've got - my poor 'Ragazzi' gnawed by time and use, an essential guide to the first impressions that Pasolini had of Rome when he got off a train from Ramuscello in early 1950, and a controversial book as well with its suburban landscape of prostitutes, pimps and children who loot and steal shamelessly to buy some good pointed-toe boots and some sunglasses, and deliver themselves to the perversions of Villa Borghese.
The publishing of that book was not without repercussions. It immediately turned into a large-scale scandal. Pasolini was brought up on charges of obscenity, and for the first time in his life had to appear in court to defend his work. He had many more encounters with the law, but he never seemed to learn his lesson. It was in 1955 when he published 'Ragazzi di vita'. Seven years after that, more of a bigmouth than anyone, he filmed 'La ricotta' ('Curd Cheese'), a blatant and blasphemous film where heretics dressed in tunics performed a representation of Potormo's 'Descent from the Cross'. It was shameless, rock and roll, and, as if that weren't enough, in the end the good thief is crucified and, having gorged himself on cheese, dies of indigestion without having had time to ask the Messiah for supreme salvation.
The 'Ragazzi' are the origin of everything. I read how the young Riccetto throws himself into the waters of the Tiber to rescue a swallow and I can't stop thinking about the backside of Ninetto Davoli in 'Il fiore delle Mille e una Notte' ('Arabian Nights') - or about Ninetto Davoli in general. When Pasolini discovered him, in the days when he was filming 'Mamma Roma' with Anna Magnani, Davoli was an apprentice carpenter on the periphery, with curly black hair and a fantastic Italian smile - the image of Dionysus. He gave Davoli a small role in 'Il vangelo secondo Matteo' ('The Gospel According to Matthew'), and right after that, he was second fiddle to Totó in 'Uccellacci e uccellini' ('The Hawks and the Sparrows'). I have no idea the exact moment in all of this when Davoli became Pasolini's great love.
All this came about because the CCCB is putting on an exhibition on the relationship between Pasolini and his beloved Rome of vice and bad living, as part of its cycle on writers and cities. What's more, the Filmoteca is also doing a Pasolini cycle, from 'Accatone' to 'Saló', which would be his last film. A year later, Pasolini's body was found brutally disfigured in a field in Ostia, Italy. At first there was talk of a crime of passion. It seems that it was actually the work of three Sicilian gunmen, who assassinated him for being communist and scandalous. He'll live on in our memories forever, as will the sound of his motorcycle on cobblestones.
CCCB. Until 15 September